Weekend Preview: No. 13 Michigan State visits No. 7 Indiana on Sunday

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Game of the Weekend: No. 13 Michigan State at No. 7 Indiana (Sun. 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

It hasn’t been pretty for the Spartans, but after almost a month of Big Ten play, Tom Izzo’s team is sitting all alone in first place in the league standings at 6-1. And when you look at what the Spartans have done this season, it’s tough not to wonder why they’re not being discussed as a true contender. They have three losses on the year. One was in the season’s opening game in Germany when they played an ugly 15 minutes to start the game. One came at Miami before Reggie Johnson broke his thumb. One came Minnesota when they were up by five with nine minutes left.

This is a really good basketball team, one that may actually be able to knock Michigan and Indiana out of the Big Ten’s top spot.

The Hoosiers are not going to be an easy team to beat at home, however. Not after Wisconsin went in there and won. But Michigan State can do some of the same things Wisconsin did. They can control the tempo, they can control the back boards, they have size to bother Cody Zeller and they have athletes on the perimeter that can chase people off of the three point line. Whatever the case, Sunday’s game should be a dandy, and Assembly Hall should be rocking.

Five more games to watch:

  • No. 15 New Mexico at San Diego State (4:00 p.m. ET NBC Sports Net): This is a long way from a must-win game for the Aztecs, but if they have any thoughts of winning the Mountain West regular season title, this is a game that they need. New Mexico currently holds a two-game lead on every in the conference. The Aztecs get them at home with a chance to avoid falling three games off of the pace. And you don’t want to have to make up three games in this meat-grinder that is the Mountain West.
  • No. 12 Minnesota at Wisconsin (2:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Net): After being tossed into the conversation with Michigan and Indiana at the top of the Big Ten, the Gophers all of a sudden appear to be pretty average. After losing to Indiana and Michigan, Minnesota went into Evanston and lost their third game in a row to Northwestern. And now they have to visit the Badgers while trying to avoid a fourth straight loss and a fall below .500 in the Big Ten? Ugh. Good luck.
  • La Salle at No. 19 VCU (8:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net): La Salle is coming off of beating No. 9 Butler at the buzzer. VCU is coming off of a loss to rival Richmond on the road in overtime. Will momentum carry over? La Salle does matchup fairly well with the Rams, as they have a quartet of solid guards in their back court.
  • North Carolina at No. 18 NC State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): This game as a chance to be as entertaining to watch as any game this weekend. North Carolina loves to get up and down the floor, and NC State is no stranger to pushing the tempo either. Both teams have quality scorers and some high-flying athletes, and neither team is a big fan of playing defense. James Michael McAdoo and CJ Leslie going head-to-head should be interesting, and it should allow us to determine who is the captain of the “All-You-Should-Be-Better” team.
  • No. 5 Louisville at Georgetown (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): Can Louisville turnaround this two game losing streak? Can the Hoyas build off of the momentum they established with their win at Notre Dame? It’s going to come down to two things for the Hoyas — Can they avoid turning the ball over against Louisville’s pressure? And can they score in the half court against their 2-3 zone without a lot of shooters on the floor?

And the Mid-Majors?

  • North Dakota State at South Dakota State (3:05 p.m. ET)
  • Stephen F. Austin at Northwestern State (4:00 p.m. ET)
  • Belmont at Eastern Kentucky (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Iona at Loyola (MD) (Sun. 12:00 p.m. ET)
  • George Mason at Northeastern (Sun. 8:00 p.m. ET)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Michigan’s hot shooting carries them into the Elite Eight past Texas A&M

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Historically known as a team that lived and died with the three-ball, No. 3-seed Michigan had spent the first weekend of the NCAA tournament proving history wrong.

In an ugly game in their opener against Montana, the Wolverines shot 5-for-16 from three while turning the ball over 14 times and managing a measly 61 points. Against Houston in the second round, Michigan shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc, with one of those threes coming courtesy of Jordan Poole at the buzzer, sending the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win.

Put another way, Michigan looked the part of the defensive grinder that they turned into this season.

Against No. 7-seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, however, the Wolverines turned into the Golden State Warriors.

Michigan matched the number of three that they had made in the tournament to date, hitting 13-of-23 bombs while shooting 61 percent from the floor in a XX-XX win over an Aggies team that had finally, for the first time since November, looked the part of the SEC title contender that they have the talent to be.

No. 11 Loyola moves on to Elite Eight after beating No. 7 Nevada

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Loyola is in the Elite Eight.

The Ramblers’ dream run through March continued Thursday as they knocked off No. 7 Nevada, 69-68, in South Region semifinal in Atlanta.

Loyola, an 11th seed making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, will play the winner of Kansas State and Kentucky on Sunday for a chance to return to the Final Four for the first time since it won the 1963 national championship.

Marques Townes hit a 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to play to put the Ramblers up four and put the game all but out of reach for Nevada. Townes finished with 18 points while Clayton Custer had 15.  Loyola shot 55.8 percent from the floor for the game.

The Wolf Pack’s Caleb Martin had 21 points while Jordan Caroline had 19. Nevada shot 41.4 percent from the floor.

Nevada looked like it may overwhelm Loyola early as it built a 12-point lead less than seven minutes into the game. The Ramblers, though, struck back by keeping the Wolf Pack off the board for nearly the last 8 minutes of the first half to take a four-point lead into the break.

The strong play considered on the other side of halftime for Loyola, which astonishingly made its first 13 shots of the second half. Still, despite the perfect start, the Ramblers only briefly took a double-digit lead before Nevada sliced it back down below 10.

Loyola’s inability to build a substantial lead came back to bite it as Nevada, the comeback kids of this tournament, mounted its attack on the deficit and had it erased before the under-four timeout, setting up the final frantic minutes of a battle for a spot in the Elite Eight that the Ramblers claimed thanks to Townes’ late triple.

2018 March Madness: Fans in Times Square pick fake teams in Sweet 16 predictions

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NBC Sports went into Times Square this week to ask basketball fans for their Sweet 16 picks.

The only problem?

The teams in the games are not actually playing in the NCAA Tournament.

They aren’t even actually teams.

Hilarity ensued.

Miami’s Bruce Brown declares for draft without an agent

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Bruce Brown wants to hear what the NBA has to say.

The Miami sophomore has declared for the draft but will not hire an agent, the school announced Thursday.

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during his second season with the Hurricanes. He did, though, see his shooting numbers take a tumble compared to his freshman season with his field goal percentage down from 45.9 to 41.5 percent and his 3-point shoot go from 34.7 to 26.7 percent. There’s also the matter of a foot injury that required surgery and kept him off the floor for the ‘Canes’ last 12 games.

By declaring for the draft, Brown can get in front of NBA teams, who will likely take a very close look at his shooting mechanics after that sophomore season downturn. It will also be an opportunity for him to build up his reputation in the professional ranks after spending much of his sophomore season injured.

Big East makes its rules recommendations in wake of FBI probe

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The Big East has ideas.

The conference on Thursday unveiled its recommendations to change college basketball in the wake of the federal investigation of corruption that resulted in 10 initial arrests and general tumult across the sport.

Among the recommendations are allowing players to go pro out of high school but requiring those who go to college to stay there at least two seasons.  They also posit increased regulation of agents, shoe companies and its own members as well as a changed recruiting calendar and more coordination with USA Basketball.

These all seem well-intentioned, but probably not destined for implementation or success.

First off, the age limit that creates one-and-dones is an NBA rule, and no matter what lobbying the NCAA does, they’re not likely to change it on college’s behalf. Any change there will come at the behest of the National Basketball Players Association. The only real leverage the NCAA has on this front would be to declare freshmen ineligible as they once were, but that seems incredibly unlikely. The idea was floated a few years back, but felt entirely like a bluff.

Even if the NCAA somehow mandated players spend at least two seasons on campus, that seems incredibly anti-player. Trae Young probably wouldn’t have left Norman North High School after his senior year, but it would be silly to make him stay another season at Oklahoma if he didn’t want to after the year he just had. Going to college helped Young’s draft stock, but staying there would almost certainly hurt him.

Players that play their way into a multi-million future being made to stick around and play for free for an extra year doesn’t seem to be a viable solution in 2018. Beyond being anti-player on its face, it could fuel even more negative consequences for players who feel they are fringe candidates. Instead of just going to school for a year and proving themselves, some players may just decide they don’t want to risk being there for two years and declare, essentially, a year early.

It also is worth noting that the same document that calls for shoe company influence to be curtailed while also bringing in USA Basketball, which is very intertwined with Nike, is…interesting.

At the end of the day, these recommendations address symptoms – and probably not that well – rather than the root cause, which is amateurism. As long as players, who clearly, literally and inarguably have value beyond their scholarship, are unable to cash in on their skills, there will be people willing to pay them surreptitiously.

It’s hard to “clean up the game” when the “dirty money” isn’t going anywhere.